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ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Agreed to terms with RHP Brad Clontz on a one-year contract,
avoiding arbitration. [2/17]

Signed OF Turner Ward and RHP Jim Corsi to minor-league
contracts with NRIs to spring training. [2/20]

Bringing in Clontz and Corsi helps to create a broader competition in camp
for the right-handed setup and middle-relief jobs. Neither of them ought to
be a primary choice, but it looks like Buck Showalter’s options for
right-handed relievers in front of Matt Mantei aren’t that tasty. Darren
Holmes and Russ Springer look like locks, but both are routinely injured.
Everyone will be happier if Byung-Hyun Kim has a great camp, but he’s
probably pre-booked for the bus trip back to Tucson. The original old man
of the desert, Mike Morgan, has an outside chance make the team as a middle
reliever and spot starter.

There are really only three jobs open, and while Clontz’s contract status
should give him the inside track on the third one behind Holmes and
Springer, his strengths as a sidearmer are almost entirely situational, in
a pen already carrying situational specialist Dan Plesac. I don’t like the
look of a pen that already has three of its relievers shoehorned into
"roles" (counting Mantei as someone who will only be used in save
situations). The rotation is already counting on the extremely fragile Todd
Stottlemyre and Armando Reynoso, so this is a very combustible staff.

Ward is, at best, a longshot to make the roster. His opportunity depends on
how many infielders Showalter decides to carry, as well as how well David
Dellucci recovers from wrist surgery.


ATLANTA BRAVES

Signed LHP Steve Avery to a minor-league contract with a
spring-training NRI. [2/22]

This should be interesting. Can pitching coach Leo Mazzone help Avery get
anywhere close to where he was before he left town? Avery has a shot at
beating out Bruce Chen for the fifth spot in the rotation. If John Rocker’s
suspension is overturned by the appeal process, you can add Terry
Mulholland to the fight for the fifth spot.

I’d be happier if they gave Chen first crack at the job, relying on Avery
or Mulholland as insurance policies. How competitive the Braves will be
three years from now is going depend on whether Chen and Kevin Millwood
have taken over at the top of a new great Braves rotation.


BOSTON RED SOX

Signed RHP Hipolito Pichardo to a minor-league contract with a
spring-training NRI. [2/16]

I’ve never been one to join the throng of writers mistakenly predicting
greatness for Pichardo for the last half-dozen years or so. On a certain
level, Pichardo epitomized everything that was wrong with the 1990s Royals:
heavily touted for little reason, rarely healthy and even more rarely
effective when he was able to take the mound. But with the relentlessly
optimistic mechanics meister Joe Kerrigan as his pitching coach, you can’t
help but wonder whether Pichardo might finally be adequate. With the last
two spots in the rotation wide open to anyone who has a good camp, it will
be interesting to see if the Red Sox go with their younger, talented
options (Tomokazu Ohka or Jin Ho Cho or Brian Rose or Juan Pena), or if
they give the jobs to Kerrigan’s reclamation projects (Pichardo or Jeff
Fassero or Bryce Florie).


CINCINNATI REDS

Signed C Benito Santiago to a minor-league deal with a
spring-training NRI. [2/24]

This makes a bit of sense. Santiago can still catch pretty well, and has
some value as a backup to someone like Eddie Taubensee, who should get most
of the playing time. He’ll have to beat out Jason LaRue for the job,
because the Reds don’t have the roster space to carry three catchers.


CLEVELAND INDIANS

Signed OF Mark Whiten to a minor-league contract with a
spring-training NRI. [2/18]

Pity the good people living on the shores of Lake Erie, be they in
Cleveland or Buffalo. Bringing in Whiten might be nice as a favor to him,
but in Kenny Lofton’s absence, the Tribe is better off carrying Jacob Cruz,
Alex Ramirez and David Roberts to cover in center field, skipping the
opportunity to blow roster spots and playing time on any member of the
unholy trio of Whiten, Lance Johnson and Ruben Sierra.


KANSAS CITY ROYALS

Acquired RHP Brett Laxton from the Athletics for OF/1B Jeremy
Giambi
and cash. [2/18]

I might be one of Laxton’s biggest fans, but this was highway robbery, pure
and simple. Given playing time and a manager who doesn’t kvetch about his
defensive shortcomings, Giambi is going to be worth considerably more than
Brett Laxton ever will be.

If the Royals are serious about rebuilding or about pinching their pennies,
they could have played a cheap Giambi (and Mark Quinn and Dee Brown) and
peddled either or both of Johnny Damon and Jermaine Dye for everything they
could have gotten in return. There are so many things they need: a
shortstop and a catcher for the future, as well as top-shelf hitting
prospects for first and third base.

Instead, they dumped Giambi when his value was low, in exchange for another
ex-Oakland pitching prospect. It isn’t every team that fills its #3 through
#5 rotation spots with guys the A’s got rid of, as the Royals will with Jay
Witasick, Blake Stein and Laxton.

This trade is a classic example of a team getting frustrated with an
outstanding offensive player because of his shortcomings, and lacking the
patience to take advantage of his strengths. If you root for the Indians,
White Sox or Twins, you should be laughing yourself silly that the Royals
seem determined to undermine their shot at contending over the next few
years. If you root for the Tigers, you should be happy there’s a team in
the division almost as messed up as yours.


LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Signed 1B Eric Karros to a three-year contract extension;
renegotiated their deal with C Todd Hundley so that he will be a
free agent after 2000. [2/18]

Why get tied into Eric Karros right now, before next year’s free agent crop
comes to market? Being able to afford a first baseman about as good as
Karros should be easy. Unfortunately, Karros is identified with the old
Dodgers Way of doing things, which means that giving him the money is a
product of the politics of nostalgia. Like most fuzzy visions of the
"good old days," this one’s mistaken. The old Dodgers Way
involved playing everyone out of position, blowing out every talented
pitcher’s arm, spectacular failures in the draft and spending lots of money
on some of the worst free-agent signings ever. I’m comfortable identifying
Karros with all of that, but I don’t understand why Malone feels obligated
to kowtow to the halcyon days of Claire and the Pastaman running the
O’Malleys’ only toy into the ground.

Buying out Hundley’s option for $500,000 looks just as bad on the surface.
If he’s healthy, you have him on the cheap in 2001, and if he’s not, you
cut him loose. But as a player traded in the middle of a multi-year deal,
Hundley had the right to demand a trade, a scenario the Dodgers went
through last winter with Jeff Shaw. Not wanting a repeat of that
uncertainty, the Dodgers agreed to give Hundley free agency at the end of
2001, rather than submit to a trade demand or extend his deal, as they did
with Shaw.


MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Signed RHP Jim Bruske to a minor-league contract with a
spring-training NRI. [2/19]

For as many bodies as are already in the rotation fight, there should be
some really tight battles for the last three or four jobs in the bullpen.
Only Bob Wickman, David Weathers and Curtis Leskanic are guaranteed jobs,
after which there are almost two dozen guys with about the same chance as
Bruske to win the last slots. I guess what I’m amazed by is the lack of any
discriminating taste in the wholesale roundup of mediocre journeymen that
Dean Taylor and David Wilder have conducted.


MINNESOTA TWINS

Signed LHP Eddie Guardado to a two-year contract extension with a
mutual option for 2003. [2/18]

Not to be too much of a cynic, but between the multi-year deal and
Guardado’s shot at nabbing a few saves in what should be a
"closer-by-committee" situation, this really increases his value
on the trade market to a contending team.


MONTREAL EXPOS

Signed OF Patrick Lennon and RHP Felipe Lira to minor-league
contracts with spring-training NRIs. [2/16]

An interesting pair of pickups, but neither of them have a snowball’s
chance in hell of cracking the roster. Lennon will probably be the
good-hitting DH that Ottawa could use after finishing last in the
International League in scoring. Lira should be a handy utility pitcher for
the Lynx to use in every role while the rest of the staff gets shuffled
around by callups during the season.


NEW YORK METS

Signed RHP Armando Benitez to a four-year contract. [2/17]

Signed 1B Mark Johnson to a minor-league contract. [2/22]

In what has been an almost entirely disastrous off-season for the Mets,
signing Benitez to a multi-year deal is as close as you get to good news.
There probably isn’t a better bet in baseball to be the dominant closer in
the game during the life of that contract.

Johnson is coming off of a mediocre season in Japan, but you just knew
Bobby Valentine couldn’t resist dragging back another guy who had jumped
the pond.


OAKLAND ATHLETICS

Signed LHP Doug Johns to a minor-league contract with a
spring-training NRI. [2/16]

Acquired OF/1B Jeremy Giambi and cash from the Royals for RHP
Brett Laxton. [2/18]

Signed manager Art Howe to a one-year contract extension for 2001.
[2/24]

Watch as the predator stalks his quarry, slowly isolating the really
dull-witted goat from the herd, creeping really close, then with a deadly
pounce…handing it a decent fifth starter for one of the game’s better
hitting prospects. Then watch as it makes the goat pay an extra 20 grand or
so for the privilege. Life always seems a bit easy when you’re smarter than
your peers.

Giambi is no great shakes in the outfield and still terribly raw at first
base, but leave it to Billy Beane to focus on what Giambi can do (hit the
bejesus out of the ball), and leave it until later to see where he’s going
to play. Jason’s brother has minor-league experience in center field, so
Howe is serious when he talks about letting him play there. If it worked
with Tony Phillips, its probably a better idea with Jeremy Giambi.

Because John Jaha is injury-prone and Matt Stairs is 31, Giambi provides
insurance for slumps as well as nagging injuries. Of course, making this
deal cuts into Olmedo Saenz’s playing time (he’ll effectively only be a
pinch-hitter and platoon caddy for Eric Chavez now). It also means that
either Rule 5 pick Bo Porter or Ryan Christenson will be on the
roster, but not both. There won’t be room on the roster for more than one
utility infielder, which means Frankie Menechino versus Jorge Velandia
versus Josue Espada versus Joe Ortiz can only have one winner.

In Laxton’s absence, the fifth starter fight gets simpler. Chances are it
will be one of the left-handers, either Mark Mulder or Ron Mahay, with a
recuperating Ariel Prieto as the dark horse. If Mulder loses, he goes to
Sacramento, but if Mahay loses, he still has a chance to win the second
lefty spot in the bullpen behind Mike Magnante.

He’ll be fighting Doug Johns for that role. Johns has been able to get
left-handed hitters out, so bringing him in isn’t a bad idea. Letting him
compete for the rotation will only hurt everyone’s feelings all around.
He’s flubbed every shot he’s gotten as a starter, and he still can’t dent
bread with a gale-force tailwind.


PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Traded LF Al Martin and cash to the Padres for PH John Vander
Wal
and RHPs Geraldo Padua and Jim Sak. [2/23]

Dumping Martin makes all sorts of sense for the Bucs. They needed to get
Chad Hermansen into the everyday lineup, and this does that. As if Vander
Wal’s value as a pinch-hitter wasn’t handy enough, he gives them a great
spare part to spot at first base for Kevin Young or in either outfield
corner for Wil Cordero or Hermansen in what looks like a heavily
right-handed lineup.

Picking up Padua and Sak also help give the organization some pitching
depth in the organization. Sak may even earn a shot at the bullpen, because
the competition for right-handed middle-relief jobs isn’t strong.


SAN DIEGO PADRES

Signed GM Kevin Towers to a three-year contract extension. [2/21]

Acquired OF Al Martin and cash from the Pirates for PH John
Vander Wal
and RHPs Geraldo Padua and Jim Sak; signed RHP
Matt Clement to a four-year contract with a club option for 2004.
[2/23]

While there’s no doubt that Towers and Clement are going to play big parts
in the future of the franchise, there should also be no doubt that Martin
won’t. I just don’t see the rationale behind bringing in an adequate stick
for left field on an already weak offensive team.

Why not go trawling for a minor-league star at first base and bump Klesko
back out to left? Martin’s glovework is worthless, and Klesko is going to
be a problem wherever he’s standing. Why not pester the Devil Rays about
Steve Cox? Why not look at the people you already have? Al Martin might
play almost as well as he did last year, and it still won’t significantly
help this team finish with more than 70 wins. The only hope is that somehow
Cam Bonifay will feel guilty or indebted for Towers’s generosity in helping
the Bucs make roster space for Chad Hermansen, and fork over something of
value in a future deal.


SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

Signed RHPs Livan Hernandez and Russ Ortiz to four-year
contracts. [2/18]

If Brian Sabean can find someone to insure the contracts, this isn’t the
worst idea around. If he can’t, he just blew an awful lot of money on two
pitchers who have been worked hard and who Dusty Baker doesn’t figure to
let up on.


TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS

Added OF Kenny Kelly to the 40-man roster; placed LHP Tony
Saunders
on the 60-day DL. [2/18]

Plopping Kelly’s unaccomplished butt on the 40-man roster should have been
expected from this circus outfit. What will be really interesting is who
they lose on waivers in the middle of the summer, once Saunders is back and
healthy.


TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Signed LHP Eric Gunderson to a minor-league contract with a
spring-training NRI. [2/16]

Announced that LHP Alvin Morman has decided to retire. [2/17]

Signed RHP Billy Koch to a three-year contract. [2/20]

I suppose it’s good news to see that Gord Ash has eliminated one year’s
worth of arbitration with Koch. This is sort of the "Cleveland
plan" writ small. Really small.

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